Christian Zionists: Down But Not Out

By Carolyn Phenicie

The Christian Embassy in Jerusalem coordinates many Christian Zionist groups' activities.

After years of prominence during the administration of President George W. Bush, Christian Zionists –- evangelical Christians who support Israel because of their belief that certain conditions there must be met before Jesus can return and reign on the Earth -– have lost some sway on the national stage.

But don’t dismiss them just yet as a force in American politics, a prominent French scholar told an audience at Columbia University on Feb. 18.

“Announcing the death of the Christian Zionist movement is both premature and naïve,” said the scholar, Celia Belin, at a talk titled ‘Israel’s Last Allies? Christian Zionists and Their Expansive Vision of the Jewish State.’

Though the Christian Zionist movement has lost some influence, it is still a strong and growing presence in the United States, said Belin, who recently completed two years as a visiting fellow at Columbia’s Middle East Institute and is writing a book on the subject.

The Christian Zionist movement, which has been tied closely with the evangelical right wing of the Republican Party, gained strength as evangelical and fundamentalist Christians became increasingly politically active in the 1980’s, particularly during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Belin said. The movement gained even more followers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when American evangelicals could identify with Israel, which is often under attack by Muslim extremists. “The effects of 9/11 cannot be underestimated for this movement,” she said.

During the Bush administration, the Christian Zionists’ political goals allied with the international relations and homeland security priorities of neo-conservatives in the Bush administration. Belin called it “this moment of perfect relationship with neo-conservatives and the far right of the Republican Party.”

But they lost momentum in the 2008 election season when they failed to rally around one single candidate in the Republican primary, splitting Christian Zionist support. President Barack Obama has openly extended a hand to Muslims around the world – a group often maligned by Christian Zionists – and supports a two-state solution for the area, contrary to Christian Zionists’ goals of expanding Israel into the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria (now Palestinian-controlled territory in the West Bank). Additionally, there has been some fragmentation within the pro-Israel community, including the rise of a Christian left that is in favor of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Despite these setbacks, the movement is still going strong. Pastor John Hagee formed Christians United for Israel in 2006, a lobbying group that “aims to be the Christian AIPAC,” Belin said referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel Jewish lobby. Hagee himself has long been obsessed with Iran as the embodiment of evil against Israel, she said, and recent developments in Iranian nuclear technology have helped fuel that belief.

Besides Christians United for Israel, the Christian Zionist movement can continue to rely on the extensive political influence of the evangelical churches in which it gathers its primary support and the increasingly powerful Christian media in this country, Belin told the group of about 20 who came to hear her lecture.

Christian Zionists have proved to be huge financial contributors to Israel as well. Belin estimates that Christian Zionists funded, at least partly, one-third of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories.

Though there has always been a Zionist movement among fundamentalist Christians, the current incarnation gained followers in 1948 with the creation of Israel and particularly in 1967 when Israel captured Jerusalem from the Jordanians. Fundamentalists took these events as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy about the end of days, Belin said.

Christian Zionists take the Bible as literally true and believe that it shows that Jesus will come to Earth and suddenly rapture, or collect to heaven, all true believers. There will then be seven years of tribulation for the non-believers left on Earth followed by Jesus’ 1,000 year reign on Earth.

Several days later, another scholar of Christian Zionism, Shalom Goldman, told a journalism class that Christian Zionists’ fervor for the Holy Land comes from their desire to see Biblical prophecy play out in the present day. Christian fundamentalists have been challenged recently by evolution and other scientific discoveries that refute the Bible, said Goldman, the author of ‘Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews and the Idea of the Promised Land,’ but the return of Jews to Israel gives fundamentalists an example of Biblical prophecy coming true.

Belin said fundamentalists find further support for Israel in the doctrines of anti-replacement theology, prosperity and prophecy that they believe is promised in the Hebrew Bible. This doctrine is based in Genesis 17:7-8 and Leviticus 26:9. The two versus refer to God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the Jews. The prosperity doctrine, based in Genesis 12:3 and Psalm 122:6, says that those who support Israel will be prosperous. The verse from Psalms even says, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you prosper.” And the prophecy doctrine is based in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which says “Then we who are living at that time will be gathered up along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.”

The Christian Zionist movement, though still limited abroad, is growing overseas as increasing numbers of evangelicals adopt its tenants. “Some wonder if we are working toward a trans-national, pro-Israel Christian Zionist movement,” Belin said.

The growing movement could have impact beyond increased funding for Jewish settlements and American support for Israel. Because of Christian Zionists’ increasing interest in the area, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is being moved from a basic territorial dispute to a much larger clash between two religions.

The Christian Zionist movement is again returning to political prominence as it allies with the Tea Party movement, Belin said. Whatever the movement’s status politically, it’s unlikely its believers’ theology will be shaken from their firmly rooted Biblical beliefs. Emblazoned across the top of the Christians United for Israel Web site is Isaiah 62:1,”For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, ’til her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.”

2 Responses to “Christian Zionists: Down But Not Out”

  1. Ross says:

    PRETRIB RAPTURE POLITICS

    Many are still unaware of the eccentric, 180-year-old British theory underlying the politics of American evangelicals and Christian Zionists.
    Journalist and historian Dave MacPherson has spent more than 40 years focusing on the origin and spread of what is known as the apocalyptic “pretribulation rapture” – the inspiration behind Hal Lindsey’s bestsellers of the 1970s and Tim LaHaye’s today.
    Although promoters of this endtime evacuation from earth constantly repeat their slogan that “it’s imminent and always has been” (which critics view more as a sales pitch than a scriptural statement), it was unknown in all official theology and organized religion before 1830.
    And MacPherson’s research also reveals how hostile the pretrib rapture view has been to other faiths:
    It is anti-Islam. TV preacher John Hagee has been advocating “a pre-emptive military strike against Iran.” (Google “Roots of Warlike Christian Zionism.”)
    It is anti-Jewish. MacPherson’s book “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books etc.) exposes hypocritical anti-Jewishness in even the theory’s foundation.
    It is anti-Catholic. Lindsey and C. I. Scofield are two of many leaders who claim that the final Antichrist will be a Roman Catholic. (Google “Pretrib Hypocrisy.”)
    It is anti-Protestant. For this reason no major Protestant denomination has ever adopted this escapist view.
    It even has some anti-evangelical aspects. The first publication promoting this novel endtime view spoke degradingly of “the name by which the mixed multitude of modern Moabites love to be distinguished, – the Evangelical World.” (MacPherson’s “Plot,” p. 85)
    Despite the above, MacPherson proves that the “glue” that holds constantly in-fighting evangelicals together long enough to be victorious voting blocs in elections is the same “fly away” view. He notes that Jerry Falwell, when giving political speeches just before an election, would unfailingly state: “We believe in the pretribulational rapture!”
    In addition to “The Rapture Plot,” MacPherson’s many internet articles include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” (massive plagiarism, phony doctorates, changing of early “rapture” documents in order to falsely credit John Darby with this view, etc.!).
    Because of his devastating discoveries, MacPherson is now No. 1 on the “hate” list of pretrib rapture leaders!
    There’s no question that the leading promoters of this bizarre 19th century end-of-the-world doctrine are solidly pro-Israel and necessarily anti-Palestinian. In light of recently uncovered facts about this fringe-British-invented belief which has always been riddled with dishonesty, many are wondering why it should ever have any influence on Middle East affairs.
    This Johnny-come-lately view raises millions of dollars for political agendas. Only when scholars of all faiths begin to look deeply at it and widely air its “dirty linen” will it cease to be a power. It is the one theological view no one needs!
    With apologies to Winston Churchill – never has so much deception been foisted on so many by so few!

    [Also Google "David Letterman's Hate, Etc."]

  2. Ellis Marina says:

    [...] Christian Zionists: Down But Not Out – Journey to Jerusalem >> http://coveringreligion.org/?p=204 >> http://www.churchofthe.net [...]

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